The Metro Council will consider a resolution “opposing all state legislation” that would create a state voucher program or a state charter authorizer without state funds being granted to local school districts to cover the costs of such programs.
The non-binding memorializing resolution, sponsored by Councilman Steve Glover, would have no legislative effect, but will serve as a chance for the council to weigh in on two issues that appear to be quickly heading down the tracks of the state legislature. The council is scheduled to take up the resolution at its Jan. 8 meeting.
The resolution, which can be found here, notes that “all of the urban school systems in Tennessee have gone on record opposing the use of school vouchers” and states that “there is a lack of empirical data supporting the assertion that school vouchers improve student performance.” It also argues that the passage of such legislation would create an “unfunded mandate” for local school districts.
“WHEREAS, vouchers and state-authorized charter schools would essentially operate as an unfunded mandate for local public school systems since the removal of a few students from a school would likely not reduce the number of required teachers and would not reduce the capital costs associated with the school, yet the public school system would lose funding to cover these costs,” a portion of the resolution reads.
“[A]nd WHEREAS, another property tax increase would likely be required in order to adequately fund Metro Nashville Public Schools and meet the state maintenance of effort funding requirements if a voucher program or state charter school authorizer is created.”
School vouchers — often called “opportunity scholarships” by supporters — use tax dollars to pay for certain students’ tuition at a private or religious schools. Critics, and the council’s proposed resolution, oppose them on the basis that such a program would divert money from public schools.
Gov. Bill Haslam has said his administration is not yet sure whether they will propose a voucher program of their own or wait to consider proposals from the legislature. The Haslam-appointed Opportunity Scholarship Task Force recommended in a report to the governor earlier this month that any such program in Tennessee should offer vouchers to low-income families.
State charter authorities exist already in other states and the idea has come to the fore in Tennessee in the wake of the fight between the state and the city over Great Hearts Academies’ attempted entry into the Metro school district.
Currently, the authority to approve or deny charter school applications rests with the elected Metro school board. Legislation creating a statewide charter authorizer would give that power to state officials.